Regional title, bragging rights on the line

Huskies, Friars expected to square off in playoffs

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By BRAD SPENCER

Boys Basketball Playoff Preview
If last week's girls basketball sectional title game, which pitted Fenwick against area-rival Trinity, was hailed as a premier match-up, then the potentially looming showdown between the OPRF and Fenwick boys basketball teams in the upcoming Class AA playoffs should be another stellar event.

Well, maybe not. After all, neither Fenwick nor OPRF has been ranked all season, actually far from it. (Fenwick girls had been riding a No. 1 ranking in the state all season, while Trinity spent time at ninth and 11th). The Friar boys downed Mt. Carmel 67-51 to finish the regular season 16-8 overall, while the Huskies closed out regular season play early last week with a 14-10 overall mark. Both teams are full of young and inexperienced talent. But none of this necessarily means these two teams could produce a ho-hum match-up. The long-time rivalry withstanding, it's apparent that the Oak Park Regional championship could be a doozy.

Fourth-seeded Fenwick has a slight advantage in this cross-town showdown that will take place on Friday in the field house at OPRF High School (7:30 p.m.). After a sluggish start that saw losses to Providence and Morton, the Friars put together four-straight wins in December which began with a 67-62 win over Class A's highly-ranked Hales Franciscan and culminated with a 55-53 overtime victory over Proviso East at the Proviso West Holiday tournament. The upsets put Fenwick back in the limelight. A regular season win over Catholic League leaders Loyola at the end of January only helped Fenwick's status. But then Leo came along and squelched the team's five-game winning streak and a chance at a title in the reconfigured CL North. Actually, Fenwick didn't help things in that game. The Friars turned the ball over 18 times, including five on traveling calls.

OPRF has a similar, although slightly different, story. The Huskies are coming off a three-game skid where a share of the program's third straight West Suburban (Silver) Conference title vanished into thin air. While Fenwick managed an upset of Proviso East, OPRF let slip a 10-point lead in the second half and lost to the Pirates 59-50 in the regular season finale on Feb. 22.

The teams are also similar in the fact that they seem to sputter during one particular quarter. The Huskies connected on just three field goals in the second period of a loss to Proviso West two weeks ago. Fenwick's scoring woes usually arrived in the first minute of the third quarter. The Friars allowed a 10-point lead to dwindle against St. Ignatius.

"Consistency has been our problem all season long, " said Fenwick head coach John Quinn after his team had to come from behind to edge St. Francis Wheaton and St. Rita in early January. "We have a good quarter followed by a lousy one. It's not the way you want to play a basketball game."

Both teams also had to battle through injuries this season. Fenwick's Peter Flowers sat out a few games in mid-January due to a strained back. OPRF's Daniel Barnes suffered a broken hand during an intramural game early in the season. The sophomore has returned to the court, but has struggled to find his timing.

After the smoke clears, the winner will travel deep into Chicago March 7 for the first round of the Farragut Sectional, where the No. 1 seed St. Joseph will likely be waiting. If either Fenwick or OPRF manage such an upset, things won't get any easier. Proviso East or Proviso West could end up in the sectional championship.

Contact: bspencer@wjinc.com

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